The Festiniog Railway is the world’s oldest narrow gauge railway and the oldest railway company in the world still operating trains. Today’s Festiniog Railway is one of the foremost tourist attractions in Wales, with thousands enjoying a trip through this spectacular part of Snowdonia every year. Some come to experience riding behind its unique steam engines, others to enjoy the stunning views as the train climbs steadily higher, twisting and turning on its journey from Porthmadog to the slate mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog. And then there’s the history…
The railway’s story dates back to the 1830s, since when it has played a pioneering role in the technological development of narrow-gauge lines around the world. It is now home to a priceless collection of locomotives, carriages, and other artefacts, as well as an extensive written archive. A short history of the railway is included here.
Like many organisations however it has had its share of ups and downs, including a period following World War II when all operations on the line ceased. That could have been the end of the story had it not been for a small band of enthusiasts who believed the line was simply too important to die. Trains started running again in 1955, with the line being slowly rebuilt in stages, until it once again ran through into Blaenau in 1982.
Since the 1960s the main thrust of the company’s efforts had focused on the restoration of the full line. The scale of the achievement, which included the construction of a new section of line and tunnel – known as the ‘Deviation’ – should not be understated, but some were becoming concerned that important aspects of the FR’s heritage were being lost or neglected.
And so, in 1984, the Festiniog Railway Heritage Group was formed. Under the guidance of its founding Chairman, Michael Seymour, the Group assumed the role of ‘the Festiniog Railway’s conscience’, aiming to offer thoughts and advice on a wide variety of issues relating to the preservation and presentation of the railway’s heritage.
Over the past 30 years the Group has raised significant sums of money, and its members donated many hours of volunteer labour, towards numerous projects. As important, it has helped highlight the Festiniog Railway’s heritage such that not only are people more aware of the railway’s heritage, but that heritage is now celebrated through events such as the popular Victorian Weekend, to the delight of both enthusiasts and general travellers alike.
The group has now reached the point where we are fully recognised as a key authority on the FR’s heritage and usually consulted before major developments affecting the line’s historic features are carried out. Clearly the railway must continue evolving to meet the needs of the modern traveller; however our mission is to ensure that the past is retained wherever possible, restored where practical, replicated if necessary, and always recorded.
Our members receive our quarterly Journal with news of the Group’s activities and articles of historic interest. Part of your subscription will be used to help fund our projects. Join us now!